If you’re playing along at home, you’ll notice that this series is a back and forth type of deal. No Country for Old Men was a best of, I Am Legend was a worst of and most recently, The Warriors was a best of installment. To keep the pendulum going, entry four brings us back to the worst of side, where we find ourselves staring into the gaping maw of Evil Otto himself…Dreamcatcher.
Stephen King adaptations are a tricky bunch unto themselves. The Shining reigns as the best film adaptation of King’s work, but the writer disliked the departures director Stanley Kubrick took from the source material so much that he asked for his name to be taken off the credits. At least he has that painfully awful yet extremely faithful made-for-tv adaptation from a few years back. Uhhh, on second thought, let’s all hope that King is happy with The Tommyknockers. That’s not to say it’s all Langoliers, Thinners and Lawnmower Men (for the record, I find The Lawnmower Man sublimely watchable…but it’s a pretty bad movie). King’s work has also produced gems such as Cujo, Apt Pupil and The Mist (black & white version, recognize!) so it’s kind of a crap shoot.
And it’s not like the people behind the movie were any slouches. The screenplay was written by William Goldman, who wrote such classics as (just to name a few) Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, Magic, A Bridge Too Far, Chaplin and The Princess Bride. And he’s even had success adapting King with Misery, so he’s a good choice for this odd alien invasion/government cover up story. Director Lawrence Kasdan has a much smaller resume, but a quality one with movies like Wyatt Earp, The Accidental Tourist and The Big Chill. This could have worked. And the cast featured such titans of the screen as Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore, Donnie Walhberg, Jason Lee and Morgan Freeman. So why didn’t it?
It comes down to three things: two literary ideas that worked in book form that did not work well on screen, and one idea that should have put this movie squarely in the halls of horror film history (as opposed to the halls of horrible film history! ay-oooooo!). The first idea that did not play well on film was battle between Jonesy (played by Damian Lewis) and an alien called Mr. Gray that possesses his body. The battle happens in Jonesy’s mind, as he runs around in his own brain and hides his memories from the alien, and his brain is visualized as a warehouse. When this is read in the book, it’s the type of cerebral imagery that almost defies visualization. When a person is actually running around a library type of warehouse, grabbing books and files and racing around, it’s looks kind of idiotic.
And so much of the tension is built on this “running around in the brain library” that it defeats itself. Who thought that was a good idea? The second thing from the book that doesn’t work on screen is the character of Duddits, the group’s mentally challenged and cancer stricken friend. In the end he is the key, as he helps to defeat the alien menace and revealing himself to be something of an alien as well. He is the dreamcatcher of the group, filtering out the bad mojo of the invading alien whatevers and only leaving behind good times. This, like the brain library, looks downright dumb. The character looked and acted ridiculously, and his final confrontation with the alien Mr. Gray looked equally absurd.
And there was one thing that could have saved this film, at least in terms of “I’ve never seen that before in a movie, didja see that, I’m gonna twitter all my friends about it.” One thing that would have had movie fans and horror buffs passing DVD copies around of this for ages. Taken straight from the novel, the movie features a parasite that accompanies the alien invasion. This parasite gets into its host, where it incubates and grows before it makes it glorious entrance into the world through the host’s natural exit. Okay, not natural for these parasites, which come out big and looking like horrible wormy weasels. Well, not really, because the effect work on these things was so awful that they just looked like computery blobs. And we all know the value of real effects work over digital effects, especially of this shoddy quality. Looks like they blew all their money on the Duddits make up. That’s bad money management if you ask me. This should have resulted in one of the craziest, grossest and most insane scenes in film history, but the more reserved Lawrence Kasdan didn’t seem to have the guts to make this happen.
In the end, Dreamcatcher the novel isn’t very good to begin with, and the film version is just awful. They took a middle of the road approach to adapting the work, keeping most of the elements of the novel but distilling it down a bit into more a crazy renegade army official versus average guys story, not really straying too far from the source, and it resulted in one of the worst book to film adaptations ever.